All the Wranglers had to do to gain home-ice advantage in the first round of the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs was beat Ontario on Saturday night at the Orleans Arena in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Las Vegas had to like its chances, considering it had won 10 of its previous 13 meetings with the Reign this season and hadn’t lost to them in regulation.
But Ontario, the only team from the National Conference not to qualify for the postseason, thrived in the role of spoiler, exploding for seven goals in a stunning 7-1 victory over the Wranglers in front of a crowd of 5,394.
The Reign led 3-0 after one period.
“We weren’t ready to play. We knew we needed a win, and we were bad in the first period,” Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. “It’s a little bit (understandable) after two huge emotional wins (over Ontario), but to give up seven goals is really disappointing.”
The loss spoiled Las Vegas’ bid to secure the conference’s fourth seed, but it was still able to gain the fifth seed, thanks to third-seeded Alaska’s 4-1 win over sixth-seeded Stockton on Saturday in Anchorage.
The Wranglers (34-30-8, 76 points) will face fourth-seeded Utah (34-29-9, 77) in the best-of-5 first round, and the Thunder (33-29-10, 76) will stay in Alaska to play the Aces (36-28-8, 80).
At the Grizzlies’ request, Las Vegas will host Game 1 on Tuesday and Game 2 on Wednesday at the Orleans Arena, with Games 3, 4 (if necessary) and 5 (if necessary) scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday in Utah.
Las Vegas lost seven of its first eight meetings with Utah and finished 4-9-1 against the Grizzlies, who beat Victoria 5-2 Saturday to leapfrog the Wranglers into fourth place.
“I like how we played against Utah the second half of the season,” Mougenel said. “We’ve been playing playoff hockey for a month and a half, and I’m proud of the guys for getting us here.”
The other first-round playoff matchup will pit the seventh-seeded Salmon Kings (34-32-6, 74) against second-seeded Bakersfield (38-29-5, 81), the Pacific Division champion.
Top-seeded Idaho (48-17-7, 103), the West Division champion, will receive a first-round bye.
Joel Gistedt (7-8-2) gave up all seven goals for Las Vegas, getting beat on several long shots. Mike Zacharias stopped 27 of 28 shots for the Reign (31-31-10).
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.ORLANDO — 7
LAS VEGAS — 1
KEY: Seven players scored for the Reign, who took a 3-0 lead in the first period.
NEXT: ECHL playoffs, Utah Grizzlies at Wranglers, Game 1, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, Orleans Arena